Part VI. Dynamics of the Iranian-Israeli Confrontation

Dynamics: What Causes It to Happen

The unseen controlling forces beneath the surface of daily events…

Specifying scenarios lays the foundation for identifying causal dynamics: the scenarios constitute targets to help focus attention on dynamics, thus facilitating their identification.
All scenarios contain a range of intertwined dynamics. Their relative significance at various points in time and direction (some will reinforce while others undermine) need to be determined to understand what causes the scenarios to take place. A useful initial step is to identify the dominant dynamic(s) characterizing each scenario, enabling generation of the graphic to the right illustrating the key process of each scenario. This both provides a good opportunity to check the basic argument of each scenario and underscores the differences among the scenarios…and what makes them different.
The next step is to tackle the combination of dynamics that actually would be expected to exist in each scenario were it to come true.
In “Mideast Bipolarity,” for example, the more politicians invest their prestige in lowering tensions, the more effort regimes will make to maintain the momentum through conflict-avoidance steps. To the degree that lowered tensions lead to broader domestic freedoms and, declining defense expenditures, voters may come to value those changes. Such trends on each side may lead to changes in perception with people deciding that, for example, “they” evidently do understand language other than force.
Evolution of “Victory for al Qua’ida” will be pushed by a double vicious cycle. The assumptions that the game is zero-sum and that “they” only understand force will predispose each side to make demands and resist concessions, thereby “validating” the other side’s hostility. In addition, refusal to put all issues on the table will undercut any efforts that are made to resolve any specific issue. The nuclear issue, security of Israel’s borders, Iranian support for Palestinian independence, the Golan Heights, Iranian military aid to Syria, Israeli resistance to accepting Iran as a leading regional actor, inflammatory Iranian (e.g., Ahmedinejad) and Israeli (e.g., Netanyahu), and Iranian support for Arab radicalism are all linked. None of these issues can be resolved in isolation. Therefore, when regimes are trying to resolve issues, progress on one issue can facilitate progress on others (the dominant dynamic in “Mideast Bipolarity” and “Respect”) but, by the same token, when a zero-sum attitude dominates (the “Victory for al Qua’ida” dynamic), even on issues where progress is mutually beneficial and mutually desired, progress is inhibited by the existence of all the other irritants to bilateral relations.
An analogous argument applies to the dynamics. Although it may be a useful simplification to study causal dynamics one at a time, in truth, the dynamics are interdependent: it is precisely the interaction of dynamics that makes it so difficult to resolve issues one-by-one. To understand the evolution of a scenario, all the dynamics that cause it to evolve need to be mapped. Such a map could be done within the system dynamics perspective as a causal loop diagram or, indeed, a set of simultaneous equations, but it is more accurate to think of it as a complex adaptive system, which brings us to the final stage of analysis.
Delay plays an under-appreciated role in how dynamics unfold. In “Respect,” for example, Israel is trying a new policy designed to replace the vicious cycle of hostility dynamic that currently dominates Israeli-Iranian relations with a new “virtuous cycle” of cooperation. The key to making the new dynamic dominant is realization that there will be a significant delay between Israel’s launching of the new policy and a positive response from Iran, which has every reason to be distrustful—hence the significance of the secret Israeli plan for a year-long unilateral effort. Israel must resist the temptation to play “tit-for-tat: to tip over from a strongly dominant dynamic to a different one takes effort, foresight, and patience.
The next post in this series on Iranian-Israeli relations will continue to make use of dynamics, but through a different and more powerful “methodological lens:” that of complex adaptive systems.
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